For a company named after a rainforest, Amazon doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to matters of the environment. After being criticized on this hot topic by its own workers, the trillion-dollar e-commerce giant has reportedly threatened some employees who publically spoke out against the company’s sustainability record.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) say a number of their members have been sent emails from lawyers and HR representatives regarding public statements they have made about Amazon’s environmental stance.
Two outspoken employees who made comments to the media were even threatened with "termination" of their jobs if they continued to speak out because they were breaking Amazon's rules on external communications.
"The climate crisis is already affecting all of us," Bobby Gordon, a finance manager at Amazon, said in a press statement. "We cannot confront this monumental problem, let alone avert catastrophic damage to our planet and society if we are not allowed to speak up about it."
Amazon shipped 3.5 billion items through its own delivery network in 2019 and billions more using other delivery companies. This convenience of rapid door-to-door delivery at the click of a mouse comes at a cost, however. The company’s work pumped out around 44.4 million tonnes (48.9 million US tons) of carbon dioxide in 2018 – that’s about the same as a small country.
AECJ, a grassroots collective of workers that want to pressure their employer to become a “bold leader in the fight against climate change”, are the same group that helped organize Amazon worker participation in the largest ever global climate strike in September 2019. They have also written a public letter addressed to Jeff Bezos and Amazon's Board of Directors, urging them to “adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan.”
Much of this recent beef between Amazon and the AECJ stems from statements given by two Amazon employees to The Washington Post – which, ironically, is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos – in October 2019. In the article, they were quoted saying: “Amazon’s position is based on false premises and distracts from the fact that Amazon wants to profit in businesses that are directly contributing to climate catastrophe.”
According to Amazon, these comments are an HR issue. They say the action against AECJ members was taken because what they did violated the company's longstanding external communications policies, which they claim are standard in the industry.
“Our policy regarding external communications is not new and we believe is similar to other large companies,” said an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider.
“We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company’s logo," a spokesperson told BBC News. "As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed.”